Since I wrote yesterday about the silliness surrounding the thought that RSS is something that is dying in our brave new world of the real time Web I thought some more about it as well as reading an excellent post by Kent Newsome. Like myself Kent doesn’t believe that RSS is going anywhere. He does point out the one major failing that RSS has – that being that unless you are some geek type person no-one has the first clue about what RSS is.
In this he is absolutely right. To the average person on the street you mention Facebook and they know instantly what you are talking about. Mention Twitter and fewer people will know what you are talking about but that too is changing. Now bring up RSS and you will see the blank stare telling you that they have no idea what you are talking about.
You see there is nothing sexy about RSS. You won’t get Ashton Kuchner sending $100,000 checks to charity because of RSS. You won’t get Oprah forgetting her caps lock as she blasts out messages about RSS. However without RSS neither of them, or the millions of other people, would even care about Twitter because it wouldn’t exist as we know it.
This is because when you look at the code that gets transported to RSS feed clients and to Twitter users around the world it is exactly the same – XML base text code. Without it we would have nothing to import into Friendfeed, Facebook or any of the other growing number of social media network platforms.
One of the biggest arguments about the adoption and importance of Twitter is the fast – near real time – distribution of news. Like Kent though I have maintained, and still do – that this is pure bullshit, except for an extraordinarily small number of people (yes Scoble I’m looking at you). Kent has three simple reasons why Twitter is actually an inferior use of RSS which I agree with:
- Twitter is nothing more than a shared partial RSS feed
- Twitter has no meaningful archival value
- Twitter’s search capabilities are rudimentary at best
I get the idea that Twitter is good for breaking news and for the most part I agree with that but beyond the first half hour its news value decreases. People like Robert Scoble would have you believe that Twitter is the end all be all for getting your information. As much as that might be nice to believe it is all based on two factors.
- You spend every minute of the day sitting in front of either the Twitter page (and refreshing its content every minute or so) or some Twitter client.
- That you have the time to dedicate to creating a useful list of people to follow
When it comes to things like RSS clients on the other hand there might be some time that is needed to be spent to build your initial list of blogs to read but at some point it becomes self feeding. As you read blogs and follow links you find other blogs that are a one click addition to your reader. Generally you get the full impact of what the blog author has to say unlike the one line lead-in which means you have to clink on a link to read the whole thing – what time is being saved here?
As well Kent points out the following benefits
It is easy to use. It’s free. It has archival and search features. You can organize it any way you want. There are tons of ways to slice, dice and organize your feeds. Only the fishy smelling partial feeds used as bait by those trying to keep control of the experience detract from what would otherwise be a nearly perfect experience.
This doesn’t mean that there isn’t improvements that need to be made to the whole RSS experience – from discovery to reading. Part of the problem that RSS faces in its adoption is people have no friggin’ idea what your are talking about. People get Facebook. People understand Twitter. People don’t understand some orange colored icon or how to get that information to show in a piece of software.
Even the term ‘RSS feed’ is geek speak in itself for the majority of people unlike ‘following’ or ‘friending’. Until some way can be found to make this process of discovery and accessing RSS will always be something that belongs to the realm of geekdom.
This doesn’t let developers of RSS clients off the hook though. Just as we have to rethink the process of discovery so do developers need to step back and re-examine the reading experience. We are stuck in an old paradigm of folders and list views and previews. For people who have grown up in a world of email clients, office suite software and other old school software designs this is familiar territory – a comfort zone.
However for new generations of computer users the platforms are merging – they are changing. It’s no longer folders or any of the other old school paradigms. Our perceptions of how data is displayed has to change to meet these changes and as a result developers need to step back and seriously think outside of their preconceived notions of how software is suppose to work.
Twitter isn’t the answer that everyone thinks it is. It is a part of the puzzle, a part of the way to look at things with fresh eyes, but RSS isn’t the dead and dying horse that everyone like to beat on every couple of month – just as they have on things like e-mail for years.
Instead of wasting our time on how old and decrepit things like RSS is we need to be looking at how to improve the important things like discovery and reading because it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
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